What is Network Management?
Enterprise network management must constantly evolve to account for new technologies, business requirements, risks, and challenges. In this guide, we’ll define network management, describe some of your biggest challenges, and discuss the solutions that make your job easier.
What is network management?
“Network management” describes all of the tasks performed and the technologies used to control an organization’s network and infrastructure. Some examples include:
- Installing, provisioning, and maintaining network devices and solutions like routers, switches, firewalls, and servers
- Deploying feature updates and patching vulnerabilities in systems, devices, and applications
- Monitoring network performance and optimizing traffic with load balancing and other routing technologies
- Deploying, managing, and monitoring network security solutions and addressing potential threats
- Troubleshooting and recovering networks and infrastructure during cyber attacks, hardware failures, and other outages
Network management objectives typically fall under the purview of network engineers, who design the network and handle high-level tasks, as well as network administrators, who are responsible for the day-to-day network operations.
The challenge: Data center environmental risks
A sudden change in data center environmental conditions could cause equipment failure that impacts the performance or availability of services, applications, or the network as a whole. More subtle environmental changes could also have long-term effects on the performance and lifespan of expensive hardware. For example, a slight but prolonged temperature or humidity increase could eventually overheat devices or corrode internal components, leading to unexpected shutdowns that take the network offline.
To prevent these environmental risks from damaging your infrastructure or disabling your enterprise network, you need environmental monitoring sensors to detect and monitor each of these factors. However, environmental monitoring solutions often present problems of their own, like:
- Can you view or manage your sensors from outside the enterprise network, or do you need to be on-site or connected via VPN?
- How do you connect to your environmental monitoring solution if there’s a network outage?
- What do you do with the massive amount of data being generated by your environmental monitoring sensors?
The challenge: Orchestrating hybrid network environments
Hybrid network environments use a combination of public and private cloud infrastructure, making them challenging to orchestrate. For example, applying enterprise security policies consistently across multiple vendors and platforms can be difficult. Learning how to correctly configure infrastructure settings in each environment also increases manual work and the likelihood of human error. Administrators often lack the comprehensive, 360-degree overview required to ensure optimal performance and security coverage.
Key tools for addressing hybrid network management challenges include SASE (secure access service edge), network automation, and DCIM (data center infrastructure management) solutions. And yet, each of these key tools comes with its own challenges. For example, SASE often requires hardware to host the solution and deploy software agents, adding to costs and management complexity. Hybrid network automation efforts and DCIM solutions are often hampered by vendor lock-in, which means you either need to purchase and manage multiple tools for each of your platforms, or leave gaps in your coverage.
The challenge: Automating your network operations
Network automation improves network resilience by reducing the risk of human error. It also streamlines network infrastructure provisioning, speeding up deployments without negatively impacting quality. Some examples of network automation technologies include:
Zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) enables automatic device configuration deployments. With ZTP, a non-expert onsite user can plug a new device into power and network sources, and that device automatically downloads its setup files and executes its configuration with little-to-no human intervention.
Software-defined networking (SDN) creates a software abstraction layer that decouples device configurations and network management processes from the underlying hardware. With SDN, admins can use software scripts, intelligent routing rules, and other automated tools to handle key network management workflows.
SD-WAN extends software-defined networking to WANs (wide area networks).
SD-Branch extends even further into remote branch LANs for greater automation coverage.
One challenge in automating your network operations is that most single solutions are unable to provide or facilitate all the necessary pieces to complete the network automation puzzle. That means you must often combine multiple boxes to get everything you want, increasing your network complexity and costs.
Another issue to consider is vendor lock-in. Your network likely includes different vendor solutions and platforms. Each system may allow for automation on its own within that vendor’s ecosystem, but the hassle of managing multiple automation solutions without any centralized orchestration could be more trouble than it’s worth.
The challenge: Securing enterprise networks
Cyber attacks have a huge impact on network resilience. According to Sophos, ransomware affected 66% of enterprises in 2022 alone, and 70% of those companies took longer than two weeks to recover. Ransomware encrypts critical systems, applications, and data, so the longer it takes to recover, the more business revenue – and customer trust – is lost.
For example, a MOVEit vulnerability is currently being exploited in one of the biggest ransomware attacks of all time. While Zero Trust security policies and controls can help reduce your attack surface and limit the lateral movement of malicious actors on your network, there’s no way to ensure 100% protection from these types of sophisticated attacks. That means organizations need to rethink their approach to resilience by focusing on better recovery strategies.
Create a resilient network with Nodegrid
The Nodegrid platform is like a network management multi-tool that’s customizable to solve your biggest challenges and create a resilient network infrastructure.
To learn more about building a highly resilient, automated network infrastructure with Nodegrid, download the Network Automation Blueprint.